‘Leonor Will Never Die’: A charmer that begs reflection and rewatching

Photograph courtesy of Arkeofilms Sheila Francisco as Leonor Reyes, a retired action film writer in ‘Leonor Will Never Die.’

September 8, 2022

“Leonor Will Never Die,” written and directed by Cinemalaya alum Martika Ramirez Escobar, premiered at Sundance Festival this past January as the first Philippine film since 2006 to enter the festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Escobar’s first directorial feature film was then given the Special Jury Prize for Innovative Spirit.

Set in the Philippines, the film follows Leonor Reyes (Sheila Francisco), a retired action film writer whose unwavering passion for the genre causes her to neglect her responsibilities in real life. For instance, instead of paying her electricity bills, she spends her money on buying action films from a small DVD stall manned by a similarly action-loving child.

After stumbling into a screenwriting competition in a newspaper, Leonor finds her old, incomplete script titled Ang Pagbabalik Ng Kwago (The Return of the Owl) and decides to finish it. The audience follows her in her creative daydreams and delights in the adventures of her macho hero Ronwaldo (Rocky Salumbides), fighting bad guys and rescuing his love interest, Isabella (Rea Molina).

After being knocked unconscious by a TV that fell from a neighbor’s balcony, Leonor immerses in her own fabricated action script and charts her own course as she rewrites and finishes it. While her body is left to be treated at the hospital, her son Rudie (Bong Cabrera), who is eager to start his own life but reluctant to leave her for fear she would not be able to take care of herself, finds ways to wake his mother from her subconsciousness. With him are his father, a former action hero actor who is running for local office, and his deceased older brother Ronwaldo (Anthony Falcon), who appears in ghostly form to comfort the living.

The story of Leonor’s own film is reminiscent of the formulaic action films from the Philippines from the 1970s and 1980s; it even uses grainy shots and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Meanwhile, modern issues like the drug war, wealth disparity, and corrupt politicians were woven throughout the script, reflecting Escobar’s own contemporary reality. Not least is the feminist empowerment exhibited by the elderly Leonor, who takes charge of her life. The movie provides a variety of subjects and concepts that beg for more reflection and rewatching.

Leonor Will Never Die is a charming old-fashioned film that pushes the boundaries of the media as an art form by challenging concepts of time. The story never comes to a satisfying conclusion, leaving Leonor suspended in an ambiguous eternity, giving the meta-genre its own timeless remake.

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